Los Angeles Times

Movie review, 'Circuit'

Part cautionary tale, part voyeuristic expose of the gay demimonde, "Circuit" combines narrative and documentary elements in this topical mixed bag of titillation and tragedy. It's crime and punishment by way of Miami's South Beach and Aaron Spelling.

The film begins with straight-arrow gay cop John (Johnathan Wade Drahos, who closely resembles Pierce Brosnan) leaving a small town for the bright lights of the big city - in this case, mad, bad West Hollywood.

In true "Valley of the Dolls" fashion, naive John is far too quickly seduced by the hedonistic circuit culture, a world of revolving parties and the attendant casual sex, hard drugs and harder bodies. He's befriended by the youth-obsessed hustler Hector (Andre Khabbazi), who introduces John to the designer drugs that flow freely on the party circuit, as well as to steroids which help give the men that buff, pumped-up body so prized on the dance floor, a sweaty sea of shirtless chests. Meanwhile, two stable souls, John's former girlfriend Nina (Kiersten Warren, who manages to do a lot with little) and his old friend Gill (Brian Lane Green), try to lure John back from the debauched abyss.

Shafer's 1995 mock-documentary "Man of the Year" turned a playful eye on his stint as a Playgirl centerfold. His film knowingly explored the strange double life of a gay man celebrated by straight women and homosexual men for his physique and all-American good looks.

This time out, Shafer's subject - the circuit party subculture of the gay underworld - is just as insider in tone and just as perceptive. However, it is in the area of narrative that Shafer stumbles. "Circuit," with its stock characters, clunky dialogue and heavy-handedness, often plays like camp. It's too soap opera-ish to carry the heavy weight of the morality play Shafer has fashioned. When Hector and John indulge in hard drugs, "White Rabbit" blaring on the soundtrack is a bit much.

And the numerous shots of shapely rear ends and six-pack abs give "Circuit" the wink-wink, tsk-tsk tone of 1950s exploitation movies that warned of the dangers of vice while simultaneously making it seem alluring and titillating.

Shafer introduces too many peripheral characters and subplots that go nowhere and don't lend much to the central story, which is about John's bumpy journey to self-discovery. To the film's credit, it offers a look at both sides of the bacchanalian parties and the "circuit boys" who love them. The scene is seductive and dangerous, but it can also be liberating and comforting in its tribalism.

It's through the character Tad (Daniel Kucan), a filmmaker documenting circuit parties who is obviously a stand-in for Shafer, that Shafer most effectively captures his subject. It makes the viewer wonder whether "Circuit" would have been stronger as a documentary instead of the well-intentioned, overlong, intermittently entertaining but flawed feature that it is.

2 stars
Directed by Dirk Shafer; written by Gregory Hinton and Dirk Shafer; edited by Glen Richardson; photographed by Joaquin Sedillo; production designed by John DeMeo; music by Tony Moran; produced by Steven J. Wolfe, Michael J. Roth. A Jour de Fete Films release; opens Friday at the Century Centre Cinema. Running time: 2:05. No MPAA rating.
John - Jonathan Wade Drahos
Hector - Andre Khabbazi
Tad - Daniel Kucan
Nina - Kiersten Warren
Gill - Brian Lane Green

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times